‘No room for error’: COVID-19 test comes back positive in result mix-up

‘No room for error’: Woman’s COVID-19 test came back positive in result mix-up

CHARLOTTE — A contact tracer told a Charlotte healthcare worker she tested positive for COVID-19.

Tamara Patterson said she was in disbelief because she already had a test that came back negative.

“I was at a birthday party, (a) small gathering of about 13 people and one of the girls who was there got sick the next day and another girl got sick the next day,” Patterson said.

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She got tested because she is an oncology manager caring for cancer patients at a hospital.

“My result means life or death maybe not for me but for my patients my staff for my family,” she said.

Patterson got her test three weeks ago at the drive-up site at StarMed Healthcare on Tuckaseegee.

The tests for the virus and antibodies were negative.

“I immediately got dressed and went back to work,” Patterson said. “I was excited about getting back to work. I felt free and clear and like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew my family was safe and everyone around me was safe.”

So she went about her routine. But five days later, she got the phone call from the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

“They proceeded to ask me contact tracing questions, and I stopped her as she started to ask and said my test was negative,” Patterson said. “And she said, ‘We have your test as positive.’”

Patterson said she could hardly breathe.

“I dropped everything and was, like, ‘What if I am positive? What if I exposed my family, my children, my mom, my sisters, my coworkers, my patients?’”

Patterson said the contact tracer immediately got StarMed on the phone, and it confirmed that her test result was negative.

“Then she said she would escalate it to her higher ups and that the urgent care would escalate it to theirs,” Patterson said.

A StarMed manager called later that day after checking with the lab to confirm the test result was negative.

She said she still hasn't heard back from the health department.

“There is no room for error,” Patterson said. “If there’s going to be reporting of the numbers then we need to know they owe us to get it right.”

Channel 9 contacted the Mecklenburg County Health Department to ask if the management knew about the mix-up, how it happened, if it was an isolated event and if the negative test result was included as a positive result.

A spokesperson said they are working on a response.

“The fact that they’re not getting this accurate is blowing my mind,” Patterson said.

She is demanding answers.

“Verify before you call,” Patterson said. “Verify, triple check your information. Have some sort of quality insurance in place that you’re calling the right person or giving the right information.

This is life or death for people.”

Contact tracers in North Carolina work at local health departments or a statewide COVID-19 community team.

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They contact reach out to people who’ve tested positive and people who’ve been in close contact with them and give free support and tools to monitor symptoms to slow the spread of the virus.

North Carolina has more than 1,500 full- and part-time tracers.

South Carolina has more than 750 people trained to investigate COVID-19 cases, and another 230 people working as contact monitors.

Contact tracers face resistance, difficulties in notifying people to quarantine